Primitive Quakerism Revived (review)

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Primitive Quakerism Revived:
Living As Friends in the Twenty-First Century
Written by Paul Buckley
Reviewed by Natalie Ramsland

The path of spiritual growth has few shortcuts. In fact, the path is often uncertain, as if you were hiking at night on a narrow trail without a flashlight. Paul Buckley, in Primitive Quakerism Revived, challenges any timid pace we might take in our transformation – as individuals and as religious communities. He writes, “This book calls on Quakers today to . . . repossess the essential principles that energized and strengthened [seventeenth-century] Friends of Truth, to apply those principles to the various societies and cultures we live in around the world, and, once again, to be patterns and examples to our neighbors.”

Primitive Quakerism Revived is an understated call for a radical revival. It does not attempt to ignite the reader’s passions or to charm with personal narrative and snappy storytelling. Only when you look beyond the careful, deliberate pace of Buckley’s writing can you see this book for what it is: a field guide for your own spiritual journey.

You get the sense that Buckley trusts his readers to be ready. The initial chapters outline the historical context in which Quakers emerged, and they chart the evolution of Quakers’ faith and practice up to the present day. Buckley manages to cover a lot of ground while at times bringing fresh and specific details. For example, in exploring how the metaphor of “light” has changed over time, he observes, “The transformation in the scientific descriptions of natural light and darkness has profoundly changed Friends’ perceptions of Spiritual Light and, even more, their experience of Spiritual Darkness.” The pages that followed complicated and enlivened my own conception of spiritual light. I imagine each reader will find their own meaningful connections between their spiritual practices and the primitive Quakerism Buckley illuminates.

In the book’s later chapters, Buckley describes a revived Quakerism and how it would minister to the larger world. While he shares many critical insights and suggestions, Buckley insists, “The first prerequisite for a revitalized Religious Society of Friends is putting God at the center of our lives and our spiritual communities.”

For me, as a newer member of the Religious Society of Friends, it is helpful to read declarative statements about what it means to be a Quaker. Buckley orients my experience with the earliest Quakers and ultimately connects me to a community that spans centuries.

He then boldly asks us if we have the strength to transform our modern Quaker community:

Am I a Quaker? What does that mean to me?

What marks my spiritual community as Quaker?

Buckley’s intent is for us to gain a deeper understanding of some of the earliest Quakers and apply their lessons to our individual spiritual growth today. But he also challenges the Quaker community to summon the strength of those early Friends of Truth, so that we can also transform a world that so desperately needs our help.  ~~~

– Natialie Ramsland attends Multnomah Monthly Meeting in Portland, OR (NPYM).